How to Get Funding for Cover Crops on Your Farm

Written by FarmRaise Co-Founder, Sami Tellatin, on September 3, 2020.

Harvest is right around the corner (for many, it’s already here!), and the time to plant cover crops for the winter quickly approaches. Here are four resources we recommend to secure funding for cover crop seed and equipment. 

State-Level Resources through Soil & Water Conservation Districts

Established in the 1930s and present today in almost every county in the United States, Conservation Districts are charged with assisting landowners and operators in implementing conservation initiatives. Many county-level Conservation Districts will have funding or technical support available to support your cover cropping efforts, although availability of direct funding assistance depends on state-level policies and funding allocations. 

The Soil & Water Conservation Districts in Iowa, for example, administer funds to farmers for cover cropping and soil health efforts through the Conservation Cost-Share program and the State Revolving Loan Fund. And, at some county Conservation Districts in Minnesota, producers can rent or borrow equipment for cover crop seeding and termination. 

To learn what’s available at your local Conservation District, you can find the contact details for your county (or the nearest county) by visiting the National Association of Conservation District’s database. You can also reach out to our team at info@farmraise.us and we’ll help you figure out what’s available to you.

SARE Grant Funding

The Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program (SARE) is a grant-making program of the USDA that awards grants to farmers to conduct on-farm research and education. Since the 1980s, SARE has funded over 600 on-farm projects related to cover crops and soil health. SARE operates across four regions in the United States, and each region administers funding directly to farmers, ranchers, educators and researchers. 
 
A Farmer-Rancher grant is likely the best place for you to start. All SARE regions are currently accepting proposals for Farmer-Rancher grants. If you’re interested in doing a research project on your farm that relates to cover crops or soil health, this opportunity will help you purchase materials. Some project ideas relevant to cover cropping include: legume winter cover crops as a source of nitrogen for your spring crop, interseeding cover crops into standing corn or soybean, planting green into cover crops in the spring, and testing the value-added potential of certain cover crops. 
 

USDA Cost-Share

With over $3 billion available to producers every year, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is an excellent source for funding for cover crop seed and planting costs. NRCS makes funding available on a cost-share basis to producers to plant cover crops – rates average about $35 per acre. 

Funding is disbursed to producers through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP, sounds like “equip”). The NRCS’s Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) also provides some cost-share funding, but is more appropriate for producers that already have implemented significant conservation practices and are looking to maintain, improve, or expand their conservation work. 

One important thing to note about NRCS funding: it is structured as cost-share and often given on a reimbursement basis. That means you’ll have to cover the cost initially with other funds (either your own cash or a loan). And pay-back rates are typically capped at 75% of total project costs, but some underserved or beginning producers can receive up to 90% reimbursement. That said, our team has heard several farmers say that they received more than enough NRCS funding to cover their cover crop costs. 

You can apply to EQIP anytime, since applications are accepted on a continuous basis. Note, however, that NRCS will batch applications for each year. So if you apply after the batching deadline (which is usually in July), your application will be considered as part of the subsequent year’s funding pool.

Applying for EQIP isn’t extremely difficult, but the process can be time-consuming & confusing if you embark upon it alone. We recommend that you set up a free FarmRaise account before you apply so that you can use our simplified application tool to apply for EQIP. We make it easy for you – it takes less than 30 minutes and we submit your paperwork within the week. 

Private-Led Initiatives

Agribusiness companies and impact-oriented funds are increasingly interested in cover crops as a way to drive sustainability outcomes in the agricultural sector. Farmers can benefit from this trend by taking advantage of new private-led initiatives that are emerging to financially incentivize cover crop and soil health practice adoption. We are working to map these initiatives – if you’re curious about them, you can reach out to us directly at info@farmraise.us, and we’ll let you know which options might be a good fit for you!
 

How Do I Learn More & Apply?

Knowing is one thing, applying is an entirely different one! We encourage you to take the first step by accessing our funding resources, including setting up a free account where you can access a unique list of funding options tailored to your farm, visiting with our staff during a 1:1 consultation, and emailing us at info@farmraise.us if you have any specific questions.